The Franciscan community of Mount Nebo welcomes His Majesty Abdullah II, the king of Jordan

The Franciscan community of Mount Nebo welcomes His Majesty Abdullah II, the king of Jordan

An interview with Fra Bernard Thilagarajah, guardian of the Mount Nebo community

On 22 April 2024 King Abdullah II, the current monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania took part in a meeting with personalities and representatives of Madaba on Mount Nebo, where they were welcomed by the Franciscan community.

Fra Bernard Thilagarajah, guardian since October 2022 of the convent on Mount Nebo told us about the exceptional visit by the King and the Queen during their visit to the Governorate of Madaba.

“The meeting,” said Fra Bernard, “was part of the visits that the King is making to the governorates on his Silver Jubilee, as King Abdullah ascended to the throne on 7 February 1999. Here, in a tent erected for the occasion, the king met 175 Bedouin tribal chiefs and delegations of the local communities.”

Mount Nebo: a meeting place

Mount Nebo (Jordan)

“It is truly significant that the King chose Mount Nebo as the meeting place. According to tradition,” the guardian continued, “this is the place where the prophet Moses contemplated the Promised Land without being able to enter it: today Moses is venerated by Jews, Muslims and Christians and joins everyone in a single human family. This is why Mount Nebo is a centre of peace.”

This portion of land was purchased by the Franciscans in 1932. In 1933, the archaeological excavations began and the scholars of the  Studium Biblicum Franciscanum  in Jerusalem found here the remains of a basilica full of mosaics, already mentioned in the 4th century by the pilgrim Egeria. Over time, the Franciscans set up a museum to house the findings from this Holy Place and completed the restoration of the basilica, which encloses the Memorial of Moses, finished in 2016.

Mount Nebo, a landmark for the whole of Jordan

“In his speech to the tribal chiefs,” fra Bernard emphasized, “the king of Jordan explicitly thanked the friars for their welcome and wanted to point out how Mount Nebo is a landmark not only for the area of Madaba,  but for the whole of Jordan.”

“Thanks to the work of numerous Franciscans including Fra Michele Piccirillo,” fra Bernard explains, “Mount Nebo has entered a sphere of international tourism in its own right. Today our shrine represents a great resource for the region and its population from the economic point of view. In this sense, a major project is starting which sees Mount Nebo at the centre of a religious path which also includes the site of the Baptism, that of the Beheading of John the Baptist (Machaerus) and, to the north, the Marian shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain near the town of Anjara».

A strong bond between the Jordanian crown and the friars

At the end of the meeting, the King of Jordan and his wife wanted to personally greet all the friars of the community: Fra Bernard, Fra Ibrahim Pio Hadad and Fra Ammar Shahin.

“We took advantage of this personal exchange to congratulate the sovereign on these 25 years, in the name of the Custos and of the Custody. This only underlines the relations of friendship, closeness and esteem that links the Jordanian crown under the guidance of the Hashemite dynasty, in the footsteps of King Hussein and his predecessors, to the Franciscan community.”

Silvia Giuliano